Climbing stairs is not only a tough workout, but also a great way to burn calories. The calories burned on a flight of stairs depend on your weight, the number of stairs and how fast you're climbing. In general, you'll burn 5 to 10 calories per minute of stair climbing, or per one flight of stairs.
The calories burned on a flight of stairs will vary based on your weight, the number of stairs in the flight and your climbing pace, but most people burn about 5 to 10 calories per flight. You can get a more accurate estimate of the calories burned walking up and down stairs with a calculator.
Calories Burned in a Flight
The number of stairs in a "flight" varies widely based on the building or structure in which they're located. It could be the set of stairs in between floors in a building, or it could be a long, continuous set of stairs in a stadium or other outdoor structure.
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Due to the wide variance in what constitutes a flight, it may be more useful to count the minutes you're climbing rather than steps. You can then estimate your calories burned walking up and down stairs with a calculator, using your own weight to make the calculation. For example, a 150-pound person burns about 272 calories in 30 minutes of stair climbing — or more if you're running the stairs or climbing at a quicker pace.
In time, the calories burned on a flight of stairs will add up to weight loss and can help you achieve and maintain your ideal weight. If you climb just two flights of stairs a day, you can lose up to 6 pounds a year. Increase your stair climbing to six flights a day, and that adds up to nearly 18 pounds lost in a year.
Benefits of Climbing Stairs
The calories you burn are just one benefit of stair climbing. By climbing stairs, you can also meet or exceed the minimum activity guidelines recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Adults should get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, according to the guidelines. If you climb stairs for 30 minutes a day, that adds up to 210 minutes a week — and about 150 to 300 calories.
Climbing stairs will also boost your heart and lung fitness, reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol and increase "good" HDL cholesterol. With lower LDL cholesterol, you decrease your risk of heart attack, stroke and even wrinkles.
As you're climbing stairs, aim for a heart rate that's 80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate — the very highest your pulse rate can get. Calculate your maximum heart rate using the following formula:
220 - Your age = Your estimated maximum heart rate
For example, a 45-year-old's maximum heart rate is about 175 beats per minute (220 - 45 = 175). The ideal target rate for this person is roughly between 140 and 149 beats per minute (175 x 0.80 = 140; 175 x 0.85 = 148.75).
Additional Stair-Climbing Tips
Before climbing stairs, warm up your leg muscles, including the quadriceps, calves and hamstrings. Opt for active stretches such as marching in place or squatting up and down — as opposed to static stretches where you remain still. These stretches will increase blood flow to1/2your leg muscles and prepare you for climbing without fatiguing your muscles.
Fuel up for your workout by eating a light snack of about 200 to 300 calories beforehand — something low in fat and easy to digest, such as plain Greek yogurt with sliced bananas. Also, stay hydrated before, during and after your workout. Drink about 1 or 2 cups of water before climbing, and then about 1/2 to 1 cup for every 15 minutes of exercise.
Read more: What Does Stair Climbing Do for Your Body?
Although climbing stairs will elevate your heart rate considerably, note that walking down stairs also has health benefits. Descending flights of stairs results in eccentric muscle contraction, whereby the muscles are lengthened and strengthened by the load they contract against.
As you walk down stairs, the quadriceps contract eccentrically to support your body with each step. To avoid knee injury, keep a soft bend in your knees — and check with your doctor if you have any health concerns prior to starting a stair-climbing routine.
- Berkeley Wellness: "Stair Climbing: How to Get the Most Benefits"
- University of Notre Dame: "Ten Tips for Successful Stair Climbing"
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Grand Valley State University: "Take the Stairs"
- American Council on Exercise: "Tools & Calculators"